Three Major Types of Learning


1)      Learning through association  - Classical Conditioning

2)      Learning through consequences – Operant Conditioning

3)      Learning through observation – Modeling/Observational Learning



Learning is a change in behavior or in potential behavior that occurs as a result of experience.  Learning occurs most rapidly on a schedule of continuous reinforcement.  However it is fairly easy to extinguish… switching to variable reinforcement after the desired behavior has been reached prevents extinction.



If a neutral stimulus (a stimulus that at first elicits no response) is paired with a stimulus that already evokes a reflex response, then eventually the new stimulus will by itself evoke a similar response.  (UCS, UCR, CS, CR)


·        Each pairing of the CS with the UCS strengthens the connection between the CS and CR.

·        Timing is important.  Usually the strongest and fastest conditioning occurs when the CS is presented about ½ to one second before the UC.

·        EXTINCTION - If the CS is presented repeatedly in the absence of the UCS, the CS-CR bond will weaken and the CR will eventually disappear.

·        STIMULUS GENERALIZATION - Once conditioning has occurred the subject may respond not only to the CS, but to stimuli similar to it.  For example, many of our likes and dislikes of new people and situations come from generalization based on similarities to past experiences.

·        STIMULUS DISCRIMINATION – opposite of stimulus generalization.  SD is the ability to detect differences among stimuli.  This procedure is sometimes used to test the ability of nonverbal subjects to discriminate among various stimuli, such as color (air puff / eye blink).



The organism operates on its environment in some way; the behavior in which it engages are instrumental to achieving some outcome.



If a response is followed by a pleasant or satisfying consequence, that response will be strengthened.  If a response is followed by an unpleasant or negative state of affairs, it will be weakened.

Differences Between Operant and Classical Conditioning


1)      In classical conditioning, the conditional behavior (CR) is triggered by the particular stimulus (CS) and is therefore called an elicited behavior.  Operant behavior is an emitted behavior in the sense that it occurs in a situation containing many stimuli and seems to be initiated by the organism.  In a sense the subject chooses when and how to respond.


2)      In classical conditioning, behavior (CR) is affected by something that occurs before the behavior (the CS-UCS pairing).  In contrast, the operant response is affected by what happens after the behavior – that is by its consequences.


Positive Reinforcement

Any stimulus or event that increases the likelihood of the occurrence of a behavior that it follows.



Shaping is the method of successive approximations.  Shaping reinforces the behaviors as they get closer and closer to the desired behavior.


Negative Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement is anything that increases a behavior that results in the reinforcers removal.



Any consequence that decreases the future occurrence of a behavior that produces it.

When You Remove a Positive Stimulus

      If the stimulus is a reinforcer for the behavior (e.g., parent ignores child/withdraws attention when child  acts up to get attention)
    Response Cost
      If the stimulus is not a reinforcer for the behavior (e.g., parent takes away child's TV privileges when child acts up to get attention)













Positive Stimuli


Positive Reinforcement

(ie: praise, A+, money)

Increases Behavior



Extinction or Response Cost

(ie: withdrawal of praise, A+, or money)

Decreases Behavior

Aversive Stimuli



(ie: spanking or electric shock)

Decreases Behavior



Negative Reinforcement

(ie: smoking or removal of shock)

Increases Behavior